Every draft has a few storylines that make for interesting speculation. Are the junior quarterbacks worthy of a top pick? How far does Michael Crabtree slide, if at all, because of his foot surgery? And, of course, what do we make of the issues surrounding Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith?
Smith was considered by some to be the top tackle in the draft when he opted to come out as a junior. Some executives would have preferred he returned to school in 2009 and worked on his maturity as well as his physique. Smith knew he had the talent to play at the NFL level, so he left school. That might have been his first mistake. Then his troubles started to mount.
So where will Andre Smith be drafted? In his most recent mock draft, Pat Kirwan has him going ninth overall to the Packers. Check out the projections for the first round. **Mock 3.0**
Keep in mind that, as a junior, Smith was not eligible to play in an all-star game like the Senior Bowl. Thus, early evaluation of him was driven by scouts, not offensive line coaches. If he had the opportunity to participate in the Senior Bowl, offensive line coaches would have seen the football player first -- not the guy who left the combine and looked sloppy at his pro day. He clearly made an immature decision when he left the combine on his own. That kind of disappearing act rarely happens to a combine invite and it didn't sit well with the front office people or the coaches. Smith weighed in at 332 pounds and looked soft for the little time he spent in Indianapolis. Could he overcome the blunder at Indianapolis to rise back into the draft's top 10?
The next opportunity to repair his image was his pro day and that didn't go very well when you consider only did 19 reps on the bench press. The conflict, as one offensive line coach said to me, is that "his functional football strength suggests he's much stronger than the tackles that threw the bar up closer to 30 times." Another coach said the 19 reps were below the average for tackles at the combine (23) but he also noted that the bar was literally coming out of Smith's hands as he exploded up and he was catching it on the way down. In other words, the low total was more due to poor form than actual strength.
His weight was down seven pounds from his combine weigh-in -- so he at least demonstrated he can lose the pounds. However, some scouts feel he's a candidate to eat himself out of the league.
The offensive line coach counterpoint to all of the negatives comes from one well-respected NFL line coach who put it best: "Smith looks bad at everything he does except run and pass block." When it comes to being a powerful road-grading tackle, he has what the other tackles lack: the lower-body strength to win on the field.
There's a debate whether Smith's recent troubles have just been bumps in the road as he moves toward an April date at the top of the draft or something more.
After looking at Smith through the eyes of front office executives and scouts, he is a risk and his stock is dropping. After listening to a few line coaches who have studied and watched him work, he hasn't dropped out of the top half of the first round. When I posed the question of moving him to guard, no one fought that concept (but two line coaches wondered why that would be the way to go when he had the special traits required to be an outstanding tackle).
Guys who coach offensive linemen want men with long arms. Smith has the longest arms of all the potential first-round tackles.
Secondly, they want guys who can accelerate their feet to finish a run block or recover from a poor pass block. Andre Smith has the feet to do both. One coach went as far as to say "he makes things on the football field look easy."
After examining everything, Smith's not a top five pick. Still, look for Smith to go somewhere between the sixth and 14th overall pick. After all the yellow flags that have been raised this offseason, his contract could even have some language protecting the club
Management and coaches will have to meet on some common ground when Smith comes off the board.